May 13 2016

Peregrine Chicks Grow Up: Video

Feeding time for peregrine chicks in Hokkaido, Japan. (screenshot from Eduence Field Productions Ltd)

Feeding time for peregrine chicks in Hokkaido, Japan. (screenshot from Eduence Field Productions Ltd)

Most of us have never seen peregrines nesting at wild cliffs so it’s a real pleasure to find this excellent video from Hokkaido, Japan showing a pair nesting by the sea.

Click on the screenshot above to watch peregrines’ family life as the chicks grow up from ages two to five weeks.

Here’s what you’ll see:

  • The male chases dense flocks of birds to separate out a single bird and capture it.
  • 1st feeding, chicks 2 weeks old (This is C1’s age today at Pitt):  The male brings food close to the nest but not into it. The female leaves the nest to take the prey and carries it back to the nest to feed the chicks.  If you were watching this feeding on a nestcam you would not see the male at all and might mistakenly think the female does all the hunting.  Nope.
  • 2nd feeding, chicks 3 weeks old:  The chicks have full crops showing as gray bulges on their throats. This is a sign they are well fed.  (You can see this bulge already on C1’s throat when he is full.)  The chicks are not very hungry so after their mother eats she takes away the leftovers to cache them.
  • 3rd feeding, chicks 4 weeks old: The chicks are half brown with growing feathers.  They rush at their parents to grab the food and eat it on their own.
  • Ledge walking and learning to fly, 5 weeks old:  One chick flaps and lands at the bottom of the cliff in the water.  Notice that he can swim!  He gets out of the water and climbs the cliff.  🙂

Nestcams see such a tiny piece of birds’ lives that you might misunderstand what’s going on.

Peregrines are fascinating when you watch them from the ground.


(screenshot from video by Eduence Field Production, Ltd)

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May 12 2016

May Is The Month for Wayward Bears

Published by under Mammals

Black Bear (photo by Chuck Tague)

Black Bear (photo by Chuck Tague)

On Throw Back Thursday:

May is the month when one-year-old bears are on the road, searching for a first home since mama pushed them out this spring.

If you live in the country you’ve already noticed the bears are active and had to pull in your bird feeders so the bears don’t wreck them. If you live in the city or suburbs you might not realize that bears are possible in your area … until one shows up.

When you see a bear don’t make the mistake of feeding him. He’ll think People=Food and continue to hang around, ransacking the neighborhood.

Last year locals fed marshmallows to a bear in Monroeville!  And he became a problem. And they had to call the Game Commission to trap and transport him.  The Game Commission number in southwestern Pennsylvania is 724-238-9523.

Read more about bears in this 2010 blog post called:  Bears???


(photo by Chuck Tague)

2 responses so far

May 11 2016

Downtown Peregrine Nest Site Found!

Peregrine chick at entrance to the nest, Downtown Pittsburgh, May 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

2012 peregrine chick at entrance to the nest in Downtown Pittsburgh. This nest is being used again in 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Congratulations to Lori Maggio whose search for perching peregrines has paid off.  She found the nest site of the Downtown peregrines!

Lori walks to and from her workplace at the USX Tower and often walks at lunchtime so when I asked folks to look for peregrines Downtown, she decided to help.

It was a fruitless effort until Monday May 9 when she found a peregrine perched on a high railing at Point Park’s Lawrence Hall. Later that day she stopped by and a peregrine was perched there again.

Then yesterday, May 10, she saw a peregrine take food to the nest!  Both adults went into the nest and came out after about 30 seconds.  Are the young old enough to feed themselves?  If so we should be seeing them at the nest opening soon.

If you’d like to help watch for activity, visit 3rd Avenue between Smithfield and Wood Streets.  Heading down 3rd Avenue (it’s one way), pause at the parking lot that runs between 3rd and 4th Avenues.  Facing Wood Street, look up to the right and you’ll see a building that has looks like this.

The back of 322 Fourth Ave as seen from 3rd Avenue (photo by Kate St. John)

The back of 322 Fourth Ave as seen from 3rd Avenue (photo by Kate St. John)

Look for activity at the opening, as shown in the top photo, and let me know if you see a chick. We won’t know when to have Fledge Watch until we know how old the chicks are.

Thank you, Lori!  So glad you found the nest!


(photos by Kate St. John)

21 responses so far

May 10 2016

A Smell That Reminds Me of Warblers

Published by under Plants

Cypress spurge (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Cypress spurge (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The smell of this plant reminds me of warblers.

Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) is a perennial, 4-31″ tall, with narrow small leaves and green-yellow flowers that bloom from March to September.  It was introduced to the U.S. as an ornamental in the 1860s and often planted in cemeteries where it earned the nickname “graveyard weed.”  Its introduction was a terrible idea for a number of reasons:

  • The entire plant contains a toxic latex that irritates skin and eyes and is poisonous to many animals.  It can be fatal to cattle, though sheep can eat it.
  • It spreads via roots and explosive seed pods. If a farmer plows a field containing a bit of cypress spurge, his equipment will carry cut rootlets to other fields where it will take hold.
  • The plant is very invasive, forming almost pure stands.  It has no enemies in the Western Hemisphere so scientists had to import a few insects that eat it.

Cypress spurge thrives in sandy soil so it’s no surprise that it grows at Presque Isle State Park, crowding out native lupine and puccoon.  During warbler migration its scent is on the wind.  I don’t like the smell but I’ve had so many great birding experiences at Presque Isle in May that my brain automatically thinks of warblers when I smell it.

Fortunately the sick-sweet scent brings back happy memories for me.  For those who mourn a loved one in the presence of graveyard weed, the smell probably makes them sad.

Is there a smell that reminds you of birding?  Here’s an article that explains why smells trigger memories and emotions.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

3 responses so far

May 09 2016

Nature’s Perfect Partners: PBS NATURE May 11

Barbell fish clean hippo's skin and teeth (photo courtesy PBS Nature © Mark Deeble/Vicky Stone)

Barbell fish clean hippo’s skin and teeth (photo courtesy PBS Nature © Mark Deeble/Vicky Stone)

Oh my!  Is the hippo eating these fish?!?

No. He could eat them if he wanted to but these barbell fish are his helpers.  They eat ticks from his skin and food from his teeth.  It’s a symbiotic relationship.

The hippo and the barbell fish are just one example of the unlikely partnerships animals make with other species.  Watch the premiere of Nature’s Perfect Partners on Wednesday May 11 to learn about many more — lizards with lions, a fish with a blind shrimp, toads with tarantulas.

Here’s a preview:

Don’t miss Nature’s Perfect Partners this Wednesday May 11 at 8pm EDT/ 9pm CDT on PBS.  In Pittsburgh it’s on WQED.


(photo courtesy PBS NATURE © Mark Deeble/Vicky Stone)

One response so far

May 08 2016

Ostentatious Orioles

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Baltimore oriole (photo by Steve Gosser)

Baltimore oriole (photo by Steve Gosser)

Though it’s been less than two weeks since the first Baltimore orioles returned to western Pennsylvania, it didn’t take long for them to arrive in force and begin to establish their territories.

Now they’re everywhere and obvious — singing, chasing, chattering with annoyance, drowning out the songs of other birds.

As soon as they’ve paired up Baltimore orioles sing a lot less and become almost secretive.

Enjoy them now while they’re ostentatious.


(photo by Steve Gosser)

5 responses so far

May 07 2016

Named For A Dolphin

Published by under Plants

Dwarf larkspur (photo by Kate St.John)

Dwarf larkspur (photo by Kate St.John)

This weekend is a good time to take a wildflower walk in western Pennsylvania.  When you do, you’ll find dwarf larkspur blooming.

I just learned on The Allegheny Front that its scientific name, Delphinium tricorne, comes from the word “dolphin.”

Click here to learn how it got this name and other cool facts on an audio wildflower walk on The Allegheny Front.


(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 06 2016

Very Abnormal Behavior

Hope with her remaining chick, 6 May 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope with her remaining chick, 6 May 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

This afternoon as Hope and Terzo’s last egg began to hatch, Hope picked the new chick out of its shell, ate part of it, and fed the rest to her only remaining chick, C1.

All four of Hope’s eggs hatched but there is only one chick to show for it. On April 29 she killed and ate the second chick (C2) feeding part of it to C1. C3 hatched on April 30 but he never thrived. (Some of you speculated that she didn’t fed him adequately even though there is plenty of food.)

Hours after C3 died Hope fed him to C1. And now she has killed and eaten C4, again feeding him to C1.

We don’t know why Hope is doing this. Perhaps her situation will prompt biologists to study her case. In the meantime we can only wonder.

Needless to say her actions are distressing, so turn off the nestcam if it upsets you.

This is very abnormal behavior!!


p.s. I have no predictions on what she’ll do next. I have no idea how the season will end.

116 responses so far

May 06 2016

Recognize Individual Blue Jays

Lesley The Bird Nerd” has photographed backyard birds for a long time.  She’s especially fond of blue jays and discovered that photos help her identify the jays as individuals.

Each blue jay has a different face!

Watch her video and learn how to do it yourself.  (You’ll need a camera.)


(video from LesleyTheBirdNerd on YouTube)

4 responses so far

May 05 2016

It Appears That C3 Has Died

Published by under Peregrines

C3 appears to be dead as Hope feeds C1, 5 May 2016, 9:48am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ)

C3 appears to be dead as Hope feeds C1, 5 May 2016, 9:48am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ)

More bad news.

Viewers watching the falconcams this morning began to wonder if C3 was dead because he’d been unresponsive for many, many hours.

By 9:48am when Hope brought in food, it appears that C3 has been dead for a while.

Hope continues to shelter the dead chick along with C1.

In some peregrine couples, the mother shelters the dead chick until the father takes the body away. I am not sure what this couple will do.


(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

p.s. Some of you have said this confirms your worry that C3 was not being fed enough.  Those of us who have watched peregrines for many years went back thorough the footage and confirmed that C3 was fed as much as C1 (i.e. his parents offered him food) but he would not eat as much.  He exhibited something we call “failure to thrive.”

84 responses so far

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